HIV/AIDS

Lark Lands teaches an integrated approach to HIV disease/AIDS that is aimed at not only living better day to day, but also at boosting health in a way that helps maintain immune function while improving quality of life by countering common drug side effects and other symptoms.

Many people are now living long-term with HIV/AIDS and, where drug therapies are available, are able to effectively suppress the virus and maintain decent immune function in order to prevent disease progression. It is, of course, always very important for anyone living with HIV to work with an HIV-knowledgeable physician in order to take full advantage of the best possible drug therapies and other medical treatments, as required. However, it is also important to integrate the appropriate medical therapies with dietary improvements and the nutrient supplements that can help maintain health in many important ways.

Many studies have shown that people living with HIV/AIDS develop multiple nutrient deficiencies in early disease stages, and that they worsen over time. The nutrient deficiencies contribute to both immune dysfunction and the development of many different symptoms. Protecting the body with a plentiful supply of nutrients, from both a nutritious diet and nutrient supplements, provides three very important benefits.

First, optimal levels of nutrients will boost the immune response, both before and after antiretroviral drugs (highly active antiretroviral therapy or HAART) are taken. Researchers have shown that people with higher levels of nutrients progress more slowly. The reason is that the immune response is dependent on the nutrients that make up immune cells and chemicals. The body’s need to crank out an immune response to HIV, day in and day out, makes this is a very nutrient-depleting disease. The result is that you rapidly use up your antioxidants and the other nutrient building blocks that are key in your immune response. Thus, it’s very important to always replenish these nutrients.

Second, for those who are on HAART, appropriate nutrient supplementation can greatly decrease or eliminate many drug side effects. In turn, that can help prevent drug failure since you are much more likely to properly adhere to drugs when they aren’t making you feel sick or causing symptoms that you hate. Both studies and countless anecdotal reports from the community have shown that far too many people are skipping doses to try to lessen side effects. Many of these people do not tell their physicians that they are doing this, so the physicians remain unaware that their patients are on a path to drug failure. And that is the very large risk of skipping doses. Failure to take HAART medications exactly as directed is highly likely to lead to drug resistance and failure. Using nutrients to help prevent side effects can make it much more likely that drugs will be consistently taken as directed, thus maintaining their effectiveness. That means that your meds, and their ability to save your life, may remain effective for years and years instead of months.

Third, your quality of life can be immensely improved when life-degrading symptoms are eliminated or, at least, lessened with nutrient supplementation. Too many people living with HIV develop at some point such symptoms as fatigue, diarrhea, neuropathy, gas and bloating, nausea, muscle aches and pains, lipodystrophy symptoms (including fat loss in the limbs and face, and fat gain in the abdomen), appetite loss, sexual problems, skin problems, hair loss, and other troubling symptoms. And many people are also concerned about problems that can develop over time including heart disease, diabetes, liver problems, bone disease, and other long-term complications. Whether such symptoms and conditions are caused by HIV itself or by HAART meds or by a combination of both, nutrient supplements and other complementary therapies can often help prevent or eliminate them and greatly improve quality of life. And this approach can help you can gain the benefits that the drugs can give you, while avoiding the side effects that can make taking them so difficult. And that can help you live well with HIV, not just longer.

One of the most important parts of a formula for living well is to do a long-term program that provides protection against (1) oxidative stress, (2) mitochondrial damage, and (3) inflammation.

Oxidative Stress

A great many studies have shown that oxidative stress begins in early HIV disease stages and worsens over time. In essence, oxidative stress occurs when the body’s supply of antioxidants is insufficient to counter the various body processes, including the body’s immune responses to HIV, that generate unstable molecules called free radicals and reactive oxygen species. These unstable molecules may serve an initial purpose such as destroying organisms like viruses or participating in normal body processes but they can then cause cellular damage when they bounce around through the body, picking off electrons from places they shouldn’t and damaging cells and tissues along the way. So throughout this disease, much higher than normal levels of the antioxidants which can stop these unstable molecules in their tracks are needed to prevent this damage. When there are not enough antioxidants, both immune cells and vital organs like the liver can be harmed.

For example, research has shown that cellular levels of glutathione, the most important intracellular antioxidant, begin to decrease within weeks of HIV infection, and go downhill from there. Those decreased levels of glutathione have been shown to be tied to the death of immune cells. In addition, the liver is absolutely dependent on adequate supplies of glutathione to break down toxic chemicals. If its supply of glutathione is inadequate, it’s more likely to be damaged when it has to break down drugs. Using the nutrients that help to stabilize glutathione levels, particularly alpha-lipoic acid, N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), and glutamine, can help maintain immune cells, protect the liver through years of taking HAART meds, and support the body, in general, against oxidative stress. In addition to glutathione, there are many other antioxidants in the body which work in different ways and in different places to protect it against oxidative stress, so keeping all the antioxidants, especially vitamin C, vitamin E, superoxide dismutase (SOD), the carotenoids (like beta-carotene and lycopene and lutein), selenium, alpha-lipoic acid, and coenzyme Q-10, at optimal levels is important.

Mitochondrial Damage

Research has shown that the function of mitochondria (the energy factories inside cells) is negatively affected by nucleoside analogues, nukes, the drugs like AZT (Retrovir), d4T (Zerit), 3TC (Epivir), ddI (Videx), abacavir (Ziagen), FTC (Emtriva), tenofovir (Viread), and the combo drugs like AZT+3TC (Combivir), AZT+3TC+abacavir (Trizivir), abacavir+3TC (Epzicom), tenofovir+FTC (Truvada), etc.

It’s been shown that the resulting mitochondrial dysfunction may be a cause of fat changes in the body, especially the lipodystrophy-associated fat loss called lipoatrophy, as well as of neuropathy (nerve damage), myopathy (muscle aches), pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), fatty liver, white blood cell and platelet decreases, anemia, and, in its severest form, potentially lethal lactic acidosis, a condition in which lactic acid builds up in the blood, sometimes to life-threatening levels.

Research has shown that countering oxidative stress, as discussed above, may be one key for preventing the nuke-caused damage to the mitochondria. The mitochondria produce lots of free radicals during normal body processes and without sufficient antioxidant protection, the mitochondria may be damaged. Studies have shown that giving antioxidant nutrients along with the drugs may help prevent this damage, so the antioxidants listed above are an important part of a mitochondria protection program.

Also of great importance is the amino acid carnitine. Acetyl-L-carnitine is a naturally occurring molecule in the body that’s derived from carnitine. It is involved in the normal transportation of free fatty acids into the mitochondria, and the normal oxidation of free fatty acids. Without carnitine, the mitochondria cannot function properly. The B vitamins are also crucial nutrients for mitochondrial support. In particular, thiamine (vitamin B-1) and riboflavin (vitamin B-2) are needed for proper mitochondrial function. There have been reports showing dramatic improvement in people with lactic acidosis (resulting from mitochondrial damage) after administration of these vitamins. Because standard thiamine supplements have to be converted in the body to an active form, the best supplement to use may be the thiamine derivative called benfotiamine. This combination of carnitine, antioxidants, and B vitamins may significantly help to counter mitochondrial toxicity and all the problems that can stem from that.

Inflammation

Inflammation in the body of people living with HIV can activate the virus and increase replication, raising the viral load. Inflammation also contributes to the development of a lot of the things that people are most worried about today: bone problems, heart disease, diarrhea, gas and bloating, liver dysfunction, myelopathy (spinal problem), myopathy (muscle aches), nausea, neuropathy, and skin problems. Thus, countering inflammation is crucial. Anti-inflammatory drugs might increase the risk of infections by over-suppressing the inflammatory response (a part of the immune system’s way of countering infections), and can cause gastrointestinal bleeding. Luckily, a much less risky approach is to use foods that have natural anti-inflammatory qualities. Such foods have been used for thousands of years with no apparent adverse effects on immune responses, so it seems likely that long-term consumption of them would be considerably safer than long-term use of drugs. There are a number of naturally anti-inflammatory foods and seasonings including ginger, turmeric (a seasoning), bioflavonoid-rich fruits (especially all the different berries), and omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods like fatty fish, flaxseed, and walnuts. Out of those, the best way to get the most potent effect is by either eating fatty fish quite often, things like salmon, mackerel, sardines, cod and halibut, or by taking fish oil supplements. The reason is that fish oil provides the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids in a ready-to-use form which does not have to be processed by the body in the complex ways that the other omega-3-containing foods do. Thus, you’re more likely to get a consistent effect with fatty fish or fish oil supplements. In addition, antioxidants can help because early in the process in which inflammation is created, oxidative stress plays a key role. So when you take the antioxidants for all the other reasons, you’ll also be countering inflammation and all the different problems it can create.

The bottom line is simple. Everyone living with HIV needs to be doing a base program that will replenish all the nutrients that are so often deficient, boost the immune response, counter miserable symptoms, and ensure the presence of adequate amounts of nutrients to help counter mitochondrial toxicity, inflammation, and oxidative stress. When you do that with the combination of a good diet and the proper supplements, you’ll go a very long way toward giving your body long-term protection against the virus and the damage it causes, against the drug side effects, and against life-disabling, misery-making symptoms.

Lark has long been appalled that there is so much information out there on how to help support the body of someone living with HIV in all these ways and, yet, it is too often not taught to those who could greatly benefit from this knowledge. Lark has put together comprehensive information on ways to help maintain health and prevent or eliminate symptoms in those living with HIV/AIDS, and has worked with thousands of clients who have benefitted from this type of comprehensive program. Her fundamental belief is that when you give the body what it needs, you can greatly help to boost health and improve overall quality of life, especially when you use nutrient supplements and other alternative or complementary therapies along with the appropriate medical therapies.